- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

Nearly 80,000 Redskins fans and a handful of Carolina Panthers supporters were in their seats cracking open peanuts by kickoff time yesterday. They were amazed that they sailed along the Beltway and had little trouble parking their cars in stadium lots.
Patrick Baxter couldn't believe how well things went yesterday. The 22-year-old Reston, Va., man still remembers the frustration he felt a year ago when on his way to his first-ever Redskins game he got caught in a 20-mile traffic backup along the Capital Beltway, an hour before the season's opener.
An avid football fan, Mr. Baxter said his palms became sweaty and he began feeling anxious as he and his brother Marc watched their clock hit 1 p.m. the kickoff time of last year's game and the two were still 15 miles away from the stadium's main gate.
"I felt my heart sink to my stomach, pretty much," Mr. Baxter said yesterday afternoon as he stood in front of FedEx Field in Landover, Md. "This was my first game ever and I was going to miss it unless, well, I break the law."
Mr. Baxter shut his eyes, muttered a prayer and inched his car onto the shoulder of the road, and hit the gas for the next 15 miles.
"I flew," he said. "I just figured there was no way on earth I was going to miss my first game. My friend got me these tickets and there was no way I was going to waste them. It was all right in the end; no one got hurt and I didn't get in trouble." They got to the game by halftime.
Yesterday was a different story for the tens of thousands of football fans who encountered little backup on the Beltway and faced almost no delays in finding spots to park in one of several stadium lots.
Attendance at yesterday's game hit 80,257. The Redskins beat the Panthers 20-17.
"We really had no problems getting people in here on time," said one stadium parking supervisor who did not want to be identified. "We heard of almost no delays or backups, so we consider this to be a good day."
Area police and county officials say the traffic and parking measures adopted during last season helped fans avoid a repeat of the massive tie-ups that marred the Redskins' opening day Sept. 12, 1999, when 79,237 fans showed up and thousands had no room to park their cars.
Hundreds of drivers were still circling the stadium roads looking for parking well into the second quarter of that game. Many eventually gave up and went home.
Afterward, Redskins and government officials cited two causes for the tie-ups: the late-arriving crowds and Redskins stadium employees directing cars to lots that were already full.
Traffic delays sometimes extended as far as 10 miles along the Beltway before games.
Last year, officials estimated that 30,000 drivers were trying to fit their vehicles into the 22,000 stadium spaces during the first game of the season. The lots were full by 12:30 p.m., a half-hour before kickoff, but the cars kept coming.
Since that game, team owners and Maryland officials have come up with a plan that would save fans a lot of headaches and make game day more fulfilling.
"It's more organized now," said Redskins fan Bob Torres, who left his home in Ashburn, Va. the home of Redskins training camp about 10:30 yesterday morning to make it to the game on time. "It's better than it was a year ago."
The new plan, which has been in effect since last September, directs thousands of vehicles off the Beltway at Exit 17A at Landover Road and Exit 15A at Central Avenue, toward the arena and away from FedEx Field.
Under the plan, the team closed all cash parking lots at the stadium for yesterday's game against the Panthers and allowed only patrons with permits, essentially all season-ticket holders, to park at the stadium. The stadium parking lot opened at 9 a.m. yesterday for tailgaters.
Prince George's County police were stationed at each stadium entrance and turned away anyone without a permit. Dozens of stadium parking attendants, wearing bright-orange T-shirts, also stood along the five lanes leading to the stadium and directed cars to their proper lots.
Drivers seeking cash lots were directed to US Airways Arena, about a mile away. Only customers with parking permits were allowed to use the stadium's three access roads.
The team also provided free shuttle service from the cash parking lots at US Airways Arena to the stadium. In addition, the Redskins reconfigured the color-coded, permit-only lots at the stadium to improve traffic flow before and after games.
Meanwhile, Maryland officials posted about a dozen signs along all major routes alerting drivers to the traffic patterns, as well as updating them to traffic conditions.
The plan apparently saved fans and police a lot of headaches yesterday.
"Traffic has been running very, very smoothly all day long," Maryland State Trooper Jeffrey Stevenson said yesterday afternoon. "There were no problems. It was all quiet."
The fans agreed.
"This has been great so far," said John Daly, of Laurel, Md., who arrived at the stadium on time to see the much-anticipated kickoff. "They really improved the way they handle the traffic here. Now I'll actually enjoy coming here."
As for Patrick and Marc Baxter, they easily arrived at the stadium on time and found a parking spot without as they put it "having a nervous breakdown."
"This is great," Marc Baxter said as he held his ticket before entering the stadium. "I'm actually going to see the entire game this year."

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